In 2000, EDS, a major information technology and business firm took the term “cat herding” and ran with it for this fantastic super bowl commercial, but what does cat herding mean?

The term is used to draw a parallel between cats, who are inherently independent and difficult to control, and IT workers, who are inherently independent and difficult to control. Anyone with a cat of their own probably has a good idea what I’m talking about. In a more broad sense, herding cats refers to getting different people or groups to coordinate on a goal.

Carla Emmons sums it up nicely:

Herding cats implies the futility inherent in a position as an IT manager.

In a modern IT shop it is quite literally impossible for a manager to know everything about their employees’ jobs and I believe that is the main cause of this precieved futility. To try to understand and control everything your employees are doing is just as bound to fail as trying to get your cat to come when you call its name. The good IT managers know it, the best ones embrace it.

So what is an IT manager to do? I think effective cat herding boils down to just these three things…

  1. Hire good people
  2. Get them the resources they need to do their jobs
  3. Protect them from the politics and metawork as much as possible

Remember, cat herding (IT management) isn’t about your own goals or job fulfillment, it’s about allowing your employees to reach their full potential.

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